light into ashes
May 9, 2011 8:21pm
Re: A Question about Grateful Dead sets...
The thing is, it could go both ways - sometimes the segues were planned ahead, sometimes they just came up at the moment.
I think those big 1973 Playing segues were generally planned out - not necessarily song-for-song always, but they knew they'd be segueing from A to B, and from there back to A or maybe to C....
If there isn't a plan, sometimes they'll segue smoothly when someone throws a song out into a jam, sometimes they'll be undecided for a while, and sometimes they'll disagree - a famous example being Jerry's call for Goin' Down the Road on 4/26/72. Generally they were practiced enough that they could make almost any segue sound intentional - but you can tell Weir often takes Jerry by surprise with his sudden leaps into a song!
A while ago I looked up a bunch of quotes from the '80s about how much the band planned out their sets. http://www.archive.org/post/326615/the-band-talks-about-setlists
Of course, the '80s Dead may have done things a bit differently than their earlier selves; but they weren't asked about this stuff in the early years! (And many of these comments are more about song order than specifically about segue choices.)
I'll take the liberty of repeating the quotes here:
Brent: “The day before my first concert I asked what tunes we’d be doing, so I could concentrate on those songs, but no one would tell me. It freaked me a bit, but then when we got on stage I realized that nobody knew what we were going to play. Keeps you on your toes…”
Garcia: “Usually on the first set, Weir and I try to remember which of us went first last show.”
Weir: “Some of it is up to what tunes are up in the rotation; some of it is just how it feels like it will fall together best. The first set, we’ll usually set the first two or three songs and then go on from there. Usually we have a little huddle before the second set and try to plan out the first half of the second set, based on how it’s gone so far, and what we feel like singing. Often enough, though, that gets tossed aside. Sometimes we don’t even start with the song we just agreed on – someone gets a different idea once we’re onstage.”
Garcia: “Sometimes we plan, but more often than not, we find that when we do, we change our plans. Sometimes we talk down a skeleton of the second set, to give ourselves some form – but it depends. The important thing is that it not be dull and that the experience of playing doesn’t get boring. Being stale is death.”
Weir: “We generally try to plot the songs as best we can, and leave them open for something. Oftentimes we’ll say, ‘We’ll do this, and follow it with this, and take it into this space, and see where it goes.’ That’s pretty much the standard. It’s not all that often that we plot out a set exactly, unless somebody has a real precise idea of what they want to do. And even then, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether it’ll come out the way it was planned. Most often, we plan it up to a certain point.”
Weir: “We sort of roughly mapped out how we were going to start a setlist and end a setlist. Jerry & I would do that because we were trading vocals, and then in the middle of the set, while Jer was singing, I had all the time on earth to figure out what I was going to do next.”
Garcia: “Sometimes you think of two songs as being sort of thematic, or they build on each other. I don’t even have a song list, which is real stupid. If I was just a bit more organized I’d have a printed copy of the songs we do…”
Phil: “I pretty much let them decide what they want to sing. Which may be a mistake, since we do get into ruts. What we need is a song list hanging everywhere that lists all our songs…”
Weir on Space: “For a while there, we would discuss current events or something before we went out, and every now & then we’ll still do it – come up with a motif for the jam. It’s almost never anything real serious… I think the night Bob Marley checked out we tried to do a little musical eulogy. Usually though, we’re just amusing ourselves back there during the drum solo, coming up with joke motifs for the jam: ‘Okay, you’re the stewardess aboard this hijacked airliner,’ or something like that.”
Weir: “Sometimes people drop hints in a jam to indicate what direction they might want to take it. After the jam’s gone wherever it’s going to go, someone will introduce something that suggests a direction, and then someone else will take a melody or theme and work that into something we already know. We’ll either pick up on it or we won’t… If I don’t hear something coming, or if I have an idea that I think might work & I assert it, sometimes someone will pick up on it, and sometimes it goes by unnoticed.”
Garcia: “Eventually I hope we can dispense with some of the regular things in our show that have gotten to be so predictable… We used to have material that went in more directions, but the nature of difficult material is that it’s easy to forget… We tend to be habitual: if there’s a formula that works, we tend to repeat it and do it to death. If you go to a lot of shows, you start to think, ‘These guys sure love this transition, they’re doing it all the fucking time!’… It used to be we’d go from one song into a wholly different kind of song, where the transition itself would be a piece of music – lately it’s much less that… When I choose to go from one song into another, I like a segue; Bob doesn’t seem to care. A lot of times we’ll discuss an idea before the second set, like Weir will say, ‘Let’s do Playing in the Band into Uncle John’s Band, into something.’ ‘Okay, sounds good.’ And more often than not they tend to chop off – Bob tends to splice them together.”
Phil: “We still have a lot of bad habits…the transitions are too short…we haven’t really explored a lot of the transitions. Usually the tunes are just juxtaposed brutally. There are many other ways we haven’t explored. The best thing to do would be if we’re sitting together, say during the drums, waiting to decide what to do next, we could really focus on some transitions: say, at the end of this tune we’ll use this scale or this set of chords, and change it to this scale which will put us in the key for the next song. But we hardly ever do that…out of thoughtlessness, or force of habit. Sometimes we might just want to finish the tune, finish the set, and get on with the encore!”
[Phil & Jerry actually had a disagreement over this – Jerry felt they’d done all the transitions, liked to repeat familiar segues, and felt like there was a limited amount of ‘open’ material they had, as he said they’d “used up” a lot of stuff – but Phil felt that they could open up the songs a lot more & the band was getting too static…]